Elisabeth was 15 years old in 1853. Colour lithograph by Franz Hohe-Anton Brugger.A Munich photographer Alois Löcherer took the first known photograph of Sisi, who was barely 15 years old at that time. The photograph shows a shy young girl with a simple hairstyle, a white lace collar blouse and a plaid taffeta dress, which was very fashionable in the 1850s. The reconstruction of the straw hat was made by Andrásné Tóth from Szolnok, hand-sewn and shaped, decorated according to the fashion of the period.
Elisabeth on horseback in front of Posenhoffen Castle, 1853. On the left: The original painting by Carl Theodor Piloty and Franz Adam. (Viennese Dorotheum – Auction Catalogue, 27 April 2017.) On the right: Postcard, coloured steel engraving by Andreas Fleischmann after the original painting. (Museum of the Royal Palace of Gödöllő Museum.)
From the beginning, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph both loved horse riding and nature. This painting was a Christmas present for the groom. At this time, ladies rode in sidesaddles.
The young Empress’s clothes were initially chosen by her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sofia. For her wedding, Elisabeth was given a Hungarian ceremonial dress with a rosy pink skirt, a lace-trimmed black velvet bodice and a lace apron. It was the reception of the Hungarian delegation when she was wearing the dress for the very first time. The Hungarian dress could replace the court dress at all court events.
The dress above won the “Hungarian Masterpiece Award” in 2018.
The picture shows a ball gown with a blonde lace frill and low-cut neckline, typical of the second half of the 1850s, which is made courtly by a red velvet fin embroidered in gold and attached separately to the waist. This latter solution was typical in the 19th century; a lady’s wardrobe usually included a long courtly train embroidered in gold or silver. This train could be combined with a variety of fashionable casual dresses.
Franz Xaver Winterhalter was one of the most renowned portrait painters of his time, having portrayed almost every important monarch and royal. He came to the Austrian court in 1864, commissioned to paint Franz Joseph and Elisabeth. On this occasion, he painted three pictures of Elisabeth. The Empress wears a white silk and tulle gown decorated with stars; her braided hair is resplendent with the famous diamond stars created by the court jeweller Alexander Emanuel Köchert.
According to some historians, this dress was made by the famous Parisian tailor Charles Frederic Worth, however, this is not confirmed by the sources yet.
On her relatively frequent visits to the studio, Elisabeth wore variety of dresses, which were mostly suitable for daytime occasions. In the textile collection of the Hungarian National Museum, there are three of her black velvet belts, flaring to a point at the front. They are evidence of her magnificent slenderness.
In 1863, Elisabeth hired Franziska Angerer/Rösler, a hairdresser from the Court Theater. Franziska later married Hugo Feifalik and became a famous hairdresser under his surname. She is the inventor of the world-famous braided hairstyle which can be seen in the photo.
Elisabeth photographed with her Irish wolfhound Horsegarde on 17 March 1866, at Emil Rabending’s Studio. Her black, corded velvet dress with its white lace ribbon neck ornament is a striking example of her ability to remain individual with the latest fashion trends. The narrower sleeves at the wrist, the more pronounced shoulder design and, not least, the skirt, which is narrower at the hips and expands downwards in a funnel shape instead of a bell, follow the new fashion trend of 1865, but also the later details that were typical of her: a lace collar or yoke at the neck, the accentuation of her slenderness with a pretty belt and belt buckle, and last but not least the colour black. The latter was already a favourite of hers as a girl, and she chose it more and more in the second half of her life.
According to the legend, Elisabeth won the hearts of the Hungarians on her first visit to Hungary in 1857 by appearing in national colours: a white dress with red rubies and green emeralds. Under the tyranny of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, wearing the national colours in disguise was a sign of patriotism, and no wonder the Austrian Empress struck a chord with the countrymen. On her next visit in 1866, on 6 February, she wore national colours at the commoners’ ball in Pest: her white dress was decorated with tiny red roses and green leaves, as described in the “Vasárnapi Ujság”. The illustrated weekly also published a drawing of the famous ball, which unfortunately shows only a schematic drawing of the dress.
“Coronation dress” after the Rabending photographs.
In March 1866, Elisabeth went to Emil Rabending’s Studio in Vienna to have herself photographed in a Hungarian ceremonial dress, as no other photographs had ever been taken of her in such a dress. Rabending made full-length portraits of Elisabeth in a white silk dress with velvet waistcoat and diadem on her head. It was obviously not intended to be a coronation photograph, as the simple studio background suggests.
Recent research suggests that the ‘coronation photographs’ were taken on 17 March 1866, that is, 15 months before the coronation. At that time, these photos were not yet called ‘coronation photographs’. In 1867, the public was only aware of these Rabending photographs, and as the upper part of the dress in the photographs was the same as the one worn by Queen Elisabeth at the Coronation in Matthias Church, the name ‘Coronation photograph’ slowly spread.
Since the photographs were already available in the spring of 1866, it follows that the ‘coronation dress’ must have existed by then!
According to the catalogue of the Queen Elisabeth Memorial Museum, “This is the dress in which the Queen received – in Vienna on 8 January 1866 – a delegation from both houses of the Hungarian Parliament, led by the Archprimate-Priest-Bishop János Scitovszky, who invited Their Majesties to Buda.” From the end of January 1866, Elisabeth took part in many representative events in Pest-Buda to hasten the reconciliation between her beloved Hungarians and Franz Joseph. According to the detailed descriptions of the 19-century-journalists, she wore the same dress, for example, in the National Theatre and at the first court ball.
She, therefore, wore the costume familiar from the Rabending photographs on several occasions in Buda, as a sharp-eyed journalist wrote about the Queen’s circle on the first day of the Coronation, that is, on 6 June 1867: the gown “which she had worn the previous year.”
That is why, the Hungarian gown in the Rabending photos can only be called a “coronation gown” in a broader sense because it was not the one Elisabeth wore at the Matthias Church, but it was the one she wore at many events of the coronation celebrations, such as the receptions of the Hungarian delegations.
Based on research by historian Patricia Zita Pálinkás.
Franz Joseph and Elisabeth celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1879; the Empress-Queen was still beautiful, despite the fact that in this period a woman over 40 was considered an ‘old woman’. This is the last painting to be based on personal experience, as the painters were allowed to make sketches of the Empress at the Vienna Hofburg. It is a white silk ball gown (with a train) with gold embroidery and marabou trim. She is wearing the ruby jewellery set that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.
A full-length posthumous portrait of Empress-Queen Elisabeth, made by József Koppay for the Viennese Jockey Club after 1898.
After Elisabeth’s tragic death, a large number of pictures were painted to commemorate her memory. The majority of the portraits were based on old photographs, proportionally ‘ageing’ Elisabeth’s face while preserving her youth. This picture is a version of a black velvet dress photograph taken at Rabending in 1866, the deep cut-out patterned damask evening dress was made in the fashion of 1898.
After Elisabeth’s death, Franz Joseph commissioned three Hungarian artists to paint a portrait of his “beloved angel” for the ladies closest to the Queen. Gyula Benczúr’s picture was painted for Ida Ferenczy and later donated by Ida to the Queen Elisabeth Memorial Museum, which opened in 1908. The Queen also wore her black silk dress in 1896-97, which was kept in the Queen Elisabeth Memorial Museum until 1945. The original dress, which has been lost since then, reflected the fashion of the time, and has all the hallmarks of her taste from the ruffled neckline to the wide belt.
The painter based the figure of Queen Elisabeth on a photograph by Emil Rabending, 1866. The dress is modern in 20th-century style but the simplified version of the ‘coronation dress’ can be detected in the style as well as in the jewellery and accessories.
The replica of Queen Elisabeth’s real coronation dress with “diamonds”.
Queen Elisabeth had a new dress made for the coronation in 1867. The dress was known only by those who attended one of the ceremonies. On 12 June 1867, Elisabeth presented Bishop János Ranolder of Veszprém with this skirt and apron, so the dress disappeared from public view. Ranolder received this precious gift as the Queen’s chancellor and had it preserved in the cathedral of Veszprém. In the mid-1870s he had it made into a vestment set. The vestments, together with the paintings by Bertalan Székely and Mihály Kovács, made it possible to make an authentic reconstruction of the coronation gown in 2017.
In early April 1867, ‘Divatvilág’, a Hungarian magazine reported that Her Majesty intended to appear as a Hungarian woman at her coronation, and she asked that the ladies should preferably appear in simple attire. At the end of May, the newspapers reported that the Queen would wear a Hungarian tailored white dress embroidered with silver and a house crown on her head at the Matthias Church. Foreign sources mentioned a silver and white brocade dress decorated with lilac flowers.
In his biography of Elisabeth published in 1934, Egon Caesar Corti described a silver brocade dress with organ patterns and thousands of precious stones.
Elisabeth was very ingenious in making her dress the most dazzling. From jewellery that she already had in the family treasury and from her own private jewellery she placed thousands of brilliants in the centre of the silver organ petals. However, we have no idea of their size and purity. It is therefore difficult to imagine how this gown could sparkle at the Matthias Church, lit by a multitude of candles.
Based on research by historian Patricia Zita Pálinkás.
The dress won the “Hungarian Masterpiece of the Handicraft Masterpieces Award” in 2017.